Daniel Boone and Book Edits
Right now my book is being reviewed by potential editors. My agent is very particular about this choice. He knows all authors have to have a good editor. The trick is to find one who the author can work with. (We writers can be a prickly sort, you know) He wants someone to nudge it in the right direction without taking away the book’s unique voice. (He says he’s never met anyone like me!)
The process brought to mind a discussion at the Southern Writer’s Conference in Chattanooga. Robert Morgan and his editor Shannon Ravenel were on the stage together to talk about the process of editing a book. It was clear to me the two had the chemistry to work together to take the project to the highest level possible before publication. I listened closely. If a world class writer like Robert Morgan needs some help, I knew I was gonna need a lot.
I was quite moved by Dr. Morgan’s discussion of Daniel Boone. Afterwards I bought his book. I haven’t finished it yet, but I think it is safe to say he knows more about Daniel Boone then any man alive. I also enjoyed his discussion of the relationship of Boone and Native Americans. Contrary to pop culture legend, Boone was a great friend to the native people. Morgan said with the possible exception of Sam Houston, Boone was closer to Native Americans than any other white man in American history.
Morgan was very careful to depict the lives of Native Americans (and everything else in his book) with great accuracy. I felt a bit of bond with him on this. My friend Indie was part Native American. He once told me he was very proud there was some Choctaw on his mama’s side. But he was afraid folks would think he was trying to exploit his heritage, and he didn’t talk about it much.
Shannon Ravenel is the big time N.Y.C. editor who worked with Dr. Morgan on ‘Boone.’ I was fascinated. This man is a scholar. He spent many years in research. He is the world’s number one authority on Daniel Boone. And yet even a man of this stature worked together with a tireless editor to get his project into shape for print. No man (or woman) is an island in this book world.
At one point she acknowledged his strength was at times also his weakness. She said something like “for a man like Robert Morgan every detail is important. It was hard to edit the manuscript to make it work for the general reader and still honor the integrity of his mission to show the full story of Daniel Boone.” (paraphrased)
My agent looked over at me with a wry grin. I knew what he was thinking. When I send him my first draft, he sent it back with the note: “Has potential, but every farmer knows the hard work begins when you start to chop the cotton.”
I drew a picture of a cotton boll and passed it his way.
He sent back a note. “Chop, Chop.”
I figure if Robert Morgan needs an editor Lord knows I do. I guess what Ms. Ravenel was saying is a book is like a good mandolin piece. Just cause you know a note doesn’t mean you have to use every one in your solo. Doc Watson is my favorite flat pick guitar man, and I have always said his genius is from not only the notes he plays but also the ones he has the wisdom to leave out.
After the talk, I saw Dr. Morgan sitting on a bench outside the auditorium. I introduced myself and asked him if he would sign my copy of his book. I told him how much I liked what he had to say, and he was almost shy in his response. “Well, thank you so much, I hope you enjoy the book.”
“Yes, sir. I’m sure I will.”
I am certain everyone at the conference would love to have Ms. Ravenel as an editor. She has been at it fifty years (she must have started to work in kindergarten) and only does a few projects a year. I think Ms. Ravenel drew the best out of Dr. Morgan like a good producer can do on a recording project. (Good example: ask Dale Ann Bradley about working with Alison Brown at Compass Records)
Y’all know me well enough to know like Dr. Morgan I’m a bit shy too. (Ha!) I know I can’t draw Ms. Ravenel, but I do hope I get one like her. I’m not a bit afraid of criticism. If a writer like Dr. Morgan has to be collaborative to get his book to press, then I know for a fact Tom Bibey better be the same way.
I will keep you posted on the progress of my story. It might be baby steps, but it continues to move in the right direction. When it finally comes out I want it to be the best this old country boy can do. After all, you wouldn’t want your Doc to be any other way, huh?